As we shape out policy in Syria, we ought to keep in mind our experiences in Afghanistan back in the late 1970s and 1980s. The Carter and Reagan administrations supported the Afghan resistance, which consisted of a hodgepodge of various mujaheddin groups, most Afghan nationals and other Arab volunteers. The US and its Arab allies helped these groups to win–that is to force the Soviets to withdraw. Unfortunately, that victory largely evaporated when the Taliban came to dominate the country and Al-Qaeda found a base for further operations.
When Al Qaeda won, it’s leadership then had to decide what to do next. There were some who favored going after the “Near Enemy,” that is the non-Islamist Arab states such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Others favored going after the “Far Enemy.” For some that meant going to Chechnya and fighting the Russians in the Caucasus. For others that meant taking on the US, which was what the leadership ultimately decided to do. Hence 9/11/2001.
If Syria, like the Afghan Communist regime, supported by Russia, goes under and, in that sense, history repeats itself, what then can we expect from the victorious coalition?
First, the odds are the more radical and vicious groups will dominate, just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.
Second, the victors will then debate “what do we do now?” Their options will be numerous.
Hunker down in Syria and rebuild the state?
Go after a “Near Enemy”?
- Go after Hezbollah in Lebanon;
- Go after the Shi’a in Iraq;
- Carry the struggle into Jordan to get rid of the King;
- Go after Israel in an effort to spark a regional war that might unite Arabs in a single cause.
Or go after a “Far Enemy”?
- Move the effort to the Caucasus against the Russians;
- Go after a European country;
- Go after the US.
Every one of the options, except the first–hunker down–would create problems for the US. And how likely is it that that first option would be the one chosen? I’d say about ZERO!
The reality of Syrian policy is that even if we are “successful,” and drive Assad from power, we are headed for trouble. Of course, a failure to drive Assad from power would also create enormous problems, strengthening, as it would, Hezbollah and Iran.